Jack Welch visits HBS

One of the most extraordinary things about HBS is its ability to attract and bring some of the most brilliant business leaders to campus to interact with and guide students toward success in their careers. A prime example: Jack Welch visiting the RC classrooms yesterday morning.

If you don't know who Jack Welch is, you need to look him up. For ~20 years, Jack was the CEO of General Electric, and he completely revolutionized the company through innovative, radical management changes. He grew the company to extraordinary heights and it is the successful conglomerate that it is today partly due to his leadership.

I actually met Jack and his wife Suzy briefly 3 years ago when I was an intern at Motorola. His wife was speaking at the marketing division's annual management seminar, and because I had helped organize part of the event, I was invited to attend. I don't remember much from the speech, except that Suzy Welch had perhaps the largest, most sparkly diamond ring that I've ever seen, but I do remember not knowing much about Jack at that time, and therefore not truly being able to appreciate his presence. I received a signed copy of his book, Winning, and read it at the time, but think I may need to crack it open again now that my knowledge of the business world is broader.

Apparently Jack makes an appearance on the HBS campus once every five years on the day his case (a Leadership & Organizational Behavior case on his tenure at General Electric) is taught. I feel so fortunate to have hit the jackpot and have been an RC during one of the years he made an appearance. After our typical case discussion, Jack spoke for about 35 minutes on everything from managerial lessons learned from the election to what he would have done differently if he could have reprised his time at GE. Let me tell you, he is one inspirational guy and although I may never be as great a change agent as he was, hearing his story sure makes you want to reach for the stars.

Q&A from Prospective HBS Students

As the 2011 admissions process ramps up, I've been getting a lot of questions from prospective students either looking for an insider's perspective to HBS or just general answers to lingering questions. I am more than happy to answer any reader's questions and encourage you to post a comment to an entry if it sparks any queries. I make sure to respond to every question individually, although as my schedule gets busier as recruiting season begins here in Boston, it make take about a week for me to reply.

With the abundance of recent questions, I thought I'd take some of the more common queries I receive and post my answers here so that I can share my thoughts on a broader basis. Enjoy!

1) You use a lot of acronyms in your blogs. What's the difference between "RC" and "EC," and who the heck is this TOM guy you talk about?

RC stands for "required curriculum" and is the term used to identify first year students. Likewise, EC stands for "elective curriculum" and identifies the second years. In our first year we have 10 required courses over the two semesters, with small half courses thrown in throughout the term (this semseter we had a 6-week course called "Learning at HBS," later in the semester we have a 1-week intensive workshop called "The Manager as Integrator" and there may be similar courses second semester). First semester courses are Finance 1, Financial Reporting & Control (i.e. accounting), Leadership & Organizational Behavior, Marketing, and Technology & Operations Management (this is TOM). Second semester we take Finance 2, Strategy, Leadership & Corporate Accountability, The Entrepreneurial Manager, and Business, Government & The International Environment (I think that's the exact name, basically it's an economics course).

2) You really confused me in your midterm entry when you gave your course grades of A, B, C, etc. I thought HBS grades on a 1, 2, 3 scale.

You are 100% correct in that the HBS grading scale is unlike most schools in that the class is divided into 1s (top 10% of class), 2s (middle 80% o class) and 3s (bottom 10% of class). The grades I talked about in that entry were my personal opinions of the course as a whole, and the grade I would give the school if I had the chance to rate the class (based on my individual learnings). We did get percentage grades for our midterm exams, as well as participation feedback for each class, but other than that we have not been given any specific marks.

3) You never updated us on your leadership roles!

Whoops, sorry about that! I actually did get two of the three roles that I applied for, so I can proudly say that I am one of the Assistant Vice Presidents of Marketing and Social for the Marketing & CPG club and one of the CO-VPs of Marketing and Communication for the Entertainment and Media Club. Currently, I'm helping plan an officer kick-off event at a pottery painting place called Made by Me for the Marketing Club, and I'm spreading the word about the Entertainment & Media Club through some marketing efforst on that end. It's fun!

Another person asked how I got elected to these positions so quickly since I'm a first year. It's actually a very simple process without campaiging or ballots. Basically the first years fill out a poll explaining why they'd be best for the position and the EC officers select the RCs based on that information (so really it's more of an appointed role than an elected one). I believe that sometime in the spring actual elections are held to determine the officers for the next year.

4) How effective is the case method for quantitative courses such as accounting and finance?

This question will be answered very differently depending on your personal background, work experience and level of quantitative skills. If you've kept up with my blog at all, you'll see that I'm not the strongest in the quant area, nor do I particularly love dealing with numbers (I'm much more of a creative, people person). While this does put me at a disadvantage immediately in these courses, I've learned very quickly to take it all with a grain of salt. What I mean by this is two things: firstly, I have no intent of going into banking or accounting, so for me, a general foundation in the subject will likely suffice, and any additional quant training could be learned on the job or through additional outside coursework. Secondly, while the HBS grading system tends to compare students to one another, I had to take a step back to keep my sanity and remind myself that I am truly incomparable to many of my sectionmates in this area. Without a quantitative work background, I will never be as good in accounting as the two CPAs in my class, and I will never be able to model as quickly or effectively as the former I-bankers. But that's okay! Really. It's hard to come to grips with at first, but you start to recognize your personal competitive advantages quite quickly here and it's best to run with them and take the other courses for what their worth.

Now I realize I have not at all answered the question yet, but I felt like that was important to say. Personally, I don't find the case method as conducive to truly learning the techniques and concepts of accounting and finance. For me, a combination of case learning and lecture/small workshop courses would be more effective in helping me get a grip on the basics. The good news is that there are tons of resources on campus (whether it be second year tutors, sectionmates, people from your learning team, textbooks in the library, meeting with professors, etc.) that you can employ to help yourself understand these concepts. It's without a doubt more work, but that doesn't mean you can get there. On the upside, the case method is a great way to teach you how to think about business problems in an environment where information is ambiguous and often incomplete. You truly learn a ton in class every day.

I would highly, highly suggest that you take the time (if possible) to come visit HBS and see the case method in action. It's a truly different classroom experience from anything I've seen, and watching a course will give you the best idea of whether or not you can see yourself thriving in an environment like it.

That's it for questions for now. Another post from this week is on its way shortly!

Coldplay is the Coolest Band Ever (and other fun HBS happenings)

I decided to post two entries today, one more academically oriented and the other focusing on some of the fun things I've gotten to do in the last few weeks (plus I figured while I have the time to actually devote to blogging, I should get an extra entry in there).

Some of the Section G ladies at Friday's dinner party -- I'm on the far right
Let's start with our Section G Retreat to Stratton, Vermont. Two weeks ago, about 100 of us (probably 80 of our 90 sectionmates and 15-20 partners and children) traveled in a caravan of cars up to Stratton, a ski lodge in the boondocks of Vermont. We arrived late at night, so it was hard to appreciate the beauty of the Vermont countryside, and went straight away to a dinner and dance party in one of the resort's restaurants. Outside there was a "bonfire" (more like a fire in a pot, but it kept us warm nonetheless) where we roasted marshmallows and stuffed ourselves with delicious s'mores. I hit the hay "early" at 2:30 a.m., while the rest of the crew stayed up until 5 a.m. and beyond doing G-d knows what (I do know at some point approximately 10 people were in the hot tub blaring rap music at 5 a.m. since it woke me up out of a dead sleep. Why anyone wants to be out in 30 degree weather in a hot tub at 5 a.m. bewilders me, but to each his own...).
The view of Stratton on Sunday, the day we left, so we didn't get to enjoy this beautiful weather.
The next morning, a huge group of us headed into the resort's "town" (a series of small shops and restaurants, see photo above) for lunch and unfortunately were greeted with lots of rain and clouds, which put a damper on the day. I was originally supposed to play paintball, and many people had planned to go hiking, but the weather was so crummy that I think a large majority of us opted to stay in, which actually turned out to be quite fun. A group of us played Taboo and watched Superbad, and then I spent the evening playing Trivial Pursuit with about 15 people (and my team, the Pink Ladies, won!). Sunday morning we got back into our car caravan to drive back to Boston, and this time I was able to see how gorgeous Vermont really is. The mountainsides are covered with autumn-colored trees and the towns are incredibly quaint and old-fashioned. We stopped at a dive restaurant off the side of the street and had some of the best onion rings, curly fries and sandwiches that we've had in a good long time. A great conclusion to the weekend!
Lauren and I warming up at Starbucks after lunch at the Union Oyster House
Last Tuesday, I joined my friend Lauren (one of my best friends from high school) at a launch party for Boston Magazine at a trendy restaurant called Banq in the south end of Boston. There were free drinks (I had an amazing Shiraz) and appetizers, and after the event we stopped at another cute restaurant for dessert and garlic french fries. Previously (I think like a week earlier), the two of us visited the oldest restaurant in America, which just so happens to be in Boston. It's called Union Oyster House (http://www.unionoysterhouse.com/) and it has a room dedicated to the history of Boston with tableaus from the historical landmarks of the city. One of my favorite things about Boston is the history -- you may recall that I walked the Freedom Trail a month ago -- so it was exciting to dine within this incredibly old structure. And the food was good too!
The wonder that was the Coldplay concert
Finally, last Wednesday was the pinnacle of my week: I went to the Coldplay concert at the TD Banknorth Garden, Boston's auditorium and home of the Boston Celtics. It was one of the greatest concerts I've seen and I didn't stand still for the whole two hours they played. Not only was the music so loud that you could feel the floor vibrating, but the energy of Chris Martin and the band was beyond belief. Chris Martin was rolling around the staging, running, jumping and sweating a ton. He looked exhausted after the first song, but somehow managed to keep his energy up throughout the whole show, which included an acoustic set on a side stage in the middle of the auditorium and a cool remix of some of their older songs. They played their entire Viva La Vida album and most of their hits from their other albums (including Clocks, my favorite song of their's, Speed of Sound, Fix You, Yellow, The Hardest Part, God Put a Smile on Your Face, Politik, etc.). It was hugely worth the money I paid for the ticket, and I haven't stopped wearing my $35 Viva La Vida tour t-shirt since. :) Amar (the guy I went to the concert with) and I have already decided that if they come back to Boston next year on a new tour, we'll be one of the first in line for tickets. A highly recommended concert to see if they are coming to your area!

This weekend I'm taking it easy, trying to catch up on schoolwork, errands and general life to-do's, although tomorrow night I'm going to a potluck dinner at a sectionmate's house, which should be fun and today I've got a personal training appointment at 1:30. Then it's back to busy next week (although it's a three-day week due to company information days on Thursday and Friday) so I'll write more then. Ciao!

Halfway through Semester 1

I was talking to my best friend last night about how life here at HBS is a conundrum. In one sense, I feel like I have been here for years, and in another sense I can't believe I'm already halfway through my first semester. Somehow the individual weeks go by so quickly because I'm so busy, but as a whole I feel like I've been in Boston much longer than 2.5 months.

As I'm sure you can infer from the introduction, 2 weeks ago was our midterm week. We had three exams (Accounting, TOM and LEAD), although only Accounting and TOM actually count toward our final grade (the reason they give us a 3-hour, ungraded essay exam in LEAD perplexes me...am I irrational in thinking that if I'm going to spend 3 hours on something, I should at least receive a mark for it?). With that in mind, I thought I'd go through and do a brief review of each of my classes and professors now that we're at the midway point so you can get a sense for what I'm learning every day.

1) LEAD (i.e. Leadership and Organizational Behavior): This is actually my favorite class. Our teacher, Michel Anteby, is a little bald Frenchman whom I find so cute. The class is structured so that we not only do cases, but also interactive projects that help us learn about our individual leadership style, and how we would handle difficult managerial situations when we're actually in the business world. One of the more interesting simulations we did was called the Lingua Franca Iceberg Simulation. It involved a computer program that garbled the typed text of two people in a group of four to mimic language barriers. We had to work together in a limited time frame to develop a project while fighting through not being able to understand each other. It's amazing how frustrating it was, but also a good lesson as companies become ever more global. When we're not doing simulations, we're often reading cases about specific people and their challenges in creating successful groups, developing successful one-on-one work relationships and in aligning business incentives to create cohesive organizations. My overall course grade: A.

2) Marketing: I'm actually surprised that this hasn't turned out to be my favorite class, but I think it's because the casework blows hot and cold. We've had some incredibly interesting cases on "sexy" brands like Coca Cola, Snapple, the New VW Beetle and Starbucks, and then we've had perhaps the most boring cases ever on companies like Sealed Air (they produce inflated packing material for shipping), KONE (an elevator manufacturer) and some company I can't even remember who manufactures metalworking fluid. Metalworking fluid?! Come on people. When we're not dealing with these less than exciting companies, the class is really fun and I do feel that I'm learning a lot about developing marketing campaigns and dealing with challenges in each of the marketing sectors (i.e. the Four P's or promotion, place, price and product). My overall course grade: B

3) Financial Reporting and Control (aka Accounting): Of all the quantitative subjects, I'm surprised at how much I actually like accounting. The subject matter doesn't have the best reputation throughout the world for being incredibly stimulating, but somehow I feel it's like a puzzle with the debits and credits, and making sure both sides of the balance sheet, well, balance! I can't say it's not hard, because we've had a few classes where I've had absolutely NO idea what is going on, but overall we've tackled a huge range of accounting concepts and truly gotten a glimpse at how subjective accounting can be (and therefore how easy it is for companies to "hide" information in their financial statements, whether intentional or by accident). We've currently just finished our module on Financial Accounting, and starting next week we're diving into Managerial Accounting, which I've had no prior exposure to, so that should be interesting to see how I do. Overall course grade: B-

4) TOM (Technology and Operations Management): This course was my enemy for the first half of the semester, and I think many of my classmates would agree. Basically, the coursework looked at many different kinds of factories and the processes by which products are made. This doesn't sound so hard, but when you start throwing in metrics like cycle time, throughput time, added value time, idle time, machine utilization, etc., it becomes mind boggling. There are so many numbers and so few indications of what to do with those numbers, and help is hard to find because this is the one subject area that almost no one has encountered before in their work experience. The good news? We were allowed a "cheat sheet" for the midterm exam -- one 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper filled with as much information as you could fit (thank you computer and small font!). This cheat sheet is what helped me score an 86% on the exam, which I am extremely happy with. The even better news? The class is now shifting into a more qualitative module on supply chain management and improving operations from a less technical standpoint. Right up my alley! Overall course grade: Was a D, but I'll give it a B- going forward.

5) Finance: Now that TOM is no longer my enemy, I can shift my anger toward our Finance class. We happen to have an excellent professor for this course (his name is Andre Perold, he has a great South African accent and he just so happens to be the course head so he knows his stuff), but I just find it all so confusing and non-intuitive. I've been working with a tutor almost since the start of the course, AND I am a regular at the weekly review sessions, but I still struggle to keep up and truly understand what we are doing. We started the semester analyzing financial statements and doing discounted cash flow analysis, which I actually got with a lot of hard work, but now we're on a risk and return module working with CAPM, beta, the sharpe ratio, etc., and while I have a basic idea of the concepts, I find them incredibly hard to apply, especially in a case setting. If I could give one suggestion to the MBA program, it would be to split this class in two -- put those students with Finance backgrounds in a more advanced, perhaps case based course, and stick us dummies in a lecture class so we can actually be taught theconcepts, rather than struggle through cases night after night not knowing what to do. Overall Course Grade: C-